Authored by anon in “In the Shadow of the Church: Black Study in the Town of Davidson“
last updated 02.09.2021
This memory studies work takes different forms. In 1998, the park on Griffith Street, which encompasses a small playground, pond, and walking trails, was renamed for Roosevelt Wilson, after a young Black woman named Porschea Smith entered an essay contest to name the park. As Mellin (2020, pg. 123) describes in Beneath the Bricks, naming and memorialization carry huge historical and cultural weight. In the US South, these tools are often used to entrench historical memory of the Confederacy and embolden contemporary white supremacists, as part of a regime of terror against Black people in the places being named/memorialized (Inge 2018). Roosevelt Wilson was a Black man who lived in the community his entire life. The “reasons” that Smith cited to name the park after Wilson included his planting beautiful flowers, caring for children, and enjoying the outdoors during springtime (Smith, “The Beauty of the Pond, pg. 155). These reasons subvert the white supremacist logics of naming, and assert a framework of place and belonging that centers Black people and their connection to the land. In the article, Porschea Smith also describes conversations with her grandmother, Maggie Smith, about Roosevelt Wilson and the contest; on this page in the scrapbook, Smith includes a rare handwritten note about the day her granddaughter won the contest (Smith, pg. 155).
To engage with this photo and the ones that follow, it’s important to engage with the place of Roosevelt Wilson Park, along the Griffith Street Corridor, as a site of anti-Black violence by the College against Black people living in West Davidson. The land along Griffith Street was incorporated in 1981 by a group of alumni investors led by Howard Covington ’66, who expressed concern that wealthy white prospective students and their families would not want to see Black families living in poverty on their way to campus (Mellin, 2020, pg. 79). To “clean up” the area, he and other alumni pooled financial resources, including personal investments from some Trustees at the time as well as $75,000 of his own money, and forcibly bought out the people who lived there. Moreover, Covington’s disparaging remarks about the Black people living on Griffith Street make it clear that his motivations were racist and unofficially endorsed by the College (Mellin, 2020, pg. 79). Twenty years later, a Charlotte Observer article titled “What’s happened to Griffith Street?” revisits the site of this dispossession and displacement. Accompanying the article are several photos of Evelyn Carr’s home, the last remaining Black-owned house on the “College Greenway,” (Hunter Moore, 1999.)